Here in Australia same-sex “marriage” is higher on the agenda then it has been for several months. There are a number of attempts, following on from the Irish referendum and the more recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, to push the issue forward with a number of private members’ bills being presented in the Federal Parliament and the usual round of politicising and media support.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but at the same time not just one but two bishops in the Anglican Church of Australia have chosen to allow and even subtly push the revisionist position forward.
First, in Grafton Diocese the Daily Examiner reports back in June…
THE ANGLICAN Diocese of Grafton will canvass its congregation for their views on marriage equality over the next year.
In a wide-ranging interview on ABC radio yesterday, the Bishop of Grafton Sarah McNeil [sic], spoke of the recent diocesan synod held in Port Macquarie.
Bishop McNeil [sic] said members of the synod had discussed a number of political issues, including gay marriage, asylum seeker policy and climate change.
The bishop said the synod decided to assess the views of the congregation on gay marriage in the next 12 months, then to present this to the 2016 synod.
Bishop McNeil [sic] said the Anglican Church’s views on marriage were constrained by Australian law.
I have been unable to obtain a recording or transcript of the interview cited. Minutes from the synod are awaiting ratification by Bishop in Council.
Bishop Macneil is an acknowledged supporter of revision on the church’s received view on sexual ethic, having even conducted at least one service that was understood by those attending to be an affirmation of a same-sex civil union. Sources in the diocese tell me there is little doubt that the consultation will come back with an affirmation of gay marriage. More than one has also noted that this is a helpful way for Macneil to push the agenda gently forward, while leaving the responsibility with her synod.
The reality, of course, is that the bishop has a power of veto. While in the ABC interview Bishop Macneil states “the Anglican Church’s views on marriage were constrained by Australian law” there are those in the diocese who will also consider that they are constrained by Scripture.
Bishop Macneil agreed to the Australian Bishops’ Protocol which maintains a conservative orthodox position on human sexuality. davidould.net has also been told previously by Grafton Diocese that,
[Bishop Macneil] states clearly and publically: I will not break the discipline of the church on this matter.
At that Bishops’ meeting Dr Loader was one of two speakers. I am told that his position presented there could be summed up very simply:
- That the Bible is unequivocably and uncontestably against same-sex sexual activity and any attempts to argue otherwise were deeply flawed. One member of that meeting of bishops described his exegesis of all the key texts to me as “absolutely clear”.
- That the writers of the relevant Scriptures, most notably the Apostle Paul, were in error.
Hence, Bishop Stuart’s comment,
An aspect of our conversation centred on hermeneutics – the way we receive, interpret and understand texts.
Notably, Bishop Ross Nicholson, Assistant Bishop in Tasmania, posted a comment,
I heard Bill Loader’s talk at that bishop’s conference and the interesting thing was that he said that the bible clearly teaches that homosexual behaviour is wrong. That’s why he wrote above ‘And most in the Christian community who see same-sex relations as wrong do so because the Bible says so.’ He debunked all the arguments that revisionist want to make, like Sodom was about inhospitality, etc. If you read the articles we read for the conference you would see the work of a very careful scholar being faithful to the biblical text. In fact, exegetically, he arrived at a very conservative interpretation, Gavin Parsons. The reason why Bishop Peter Stuart writes ‘an aspect of our conversation centred on hermeneutics’ was because of this very conservative reading of the text, but then Loader concluding in essence ‘but we know more about homosexuality today than Paul did.’ That is not an exegetical statement rather it reveals a hermeneutical position. This post by Loader assumes evangelicals believe that homosexuality is an ontological problem. Bryce is right that it is more nuanced than Loader implies in this post. Whether ‘all people are heterosexual’ is not at issue. It is the behaviour which the bible condemns as it condemns all sins. Even Bill’s inperpretation of the change in views on slavery, divorce etc, is an insight into his hermeneutic at work.
Sources in Newcastle Diocese tell me that Bishop Stuart is widely understood to be sympathetic to the revisionist position and have suggested to me that this facebook post, while not openly advocating support for Dr Loader’s view, is most obviously understood to be an attempt to “subtly promote” it.
In 2012 Bishop Stuart gave an address at an ecumenical dialogue on issues of human sexuality where he closed with these words:
In this conversation I am a bishop and, as a representative of the universal church in the local, it is for me to speak and act only in the manner that represents the fullness of the current Anglican position as understood by the Newcastle Synod and the college of Bishops. I do this as one who is committed to study, listen and learn so that God’s will may be done on earth as in heaven.
There are certainly some in Newcastle Diocese and beyond who would not consider active promotion of a revisionist view as consistent with that statement, or indeed any bishop not actively upholding promoting and defending the position of the church as properly “representing the universal church”.